Trains

I rode trains in Europe, including a 200 mph bullet-train between Cologne and Frankfort, taking me right to the airport on a ride smooth as an airplane, reducing a two-and-a-half hour drive to  one hour.  Why can’t the USA have a good train system?  Well, we do.  But it’s geared for carrying freight.  And, as this article shows, freight trains and passenger trains, especially these new highspeed jobs, just don’t mix:

U.S. trains may not be the best at moving people, but they’re great at moving everything else. More than 40 percent of U.S. freight miles are done by rail, compared with less than 15 percent in Europe, according to Christopher Barkan, a professor who heads the railroad engineering program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In terms of carbon footprint, that’s a great statistic. The railroad industry likes to brag that it can carry a ton of freight 436 miles on a single gallon of diesel — three times better than a truck can do — but even that is just an average. Some freight lines manage 517 miles.

The problem is that freight track and high-speed track are built with completely different considerations in mind, making it difficult for a country to maintain both a world-class freight network and a first-rate passenger system.

Freight track is familiar to most Americans. The two steel rails are connected by hardwood crosses, known as ties to railroad aficionados. A bed of crushed stone, called ballast, undergirds the ties. This arrangement is extremely durable, and it needs to be. Freight trains weigh several times as much as their high-speed, passenger-carrying cousins. A fully loaded freight car weighs about 150 tons, compared with just 42 tons for the average car in a French high-speed train and even less in Japan.

Freight track can take the punishment of rumbling freight trains for decades with little maintenance, but that doesn’t mean the track doesn’t experience little changes. The wheels push out against the rails, increasing the gauge. (That’s the distance between the rails.) Other forces tend to create horizontal waves or vertical ripples along the track.

Curved sections are a special problem. Think of a NASCAR track. The road is banked around the curves, with the outside of the track higher than the inside to prevent the cars from sliding into the wall. Engineers do the same thing with curved train tracks. In sections where the tracks are banked, the train’s weight falls more heavily on the inside rail. Over time, it drops lower than it should, making the tracks uneven.

A stout freight train, which typically cruises along at about 60 mph, can handle those changes in track conditions. But modern passenger trains that streak over rails at more than 200 mph can’t. Everything has to be precise, or the train could derail with disastrous results.

Most high-speed passenger trains travel along a completely different medium called slab track, in which the rails are bolted into sections of concrete. The concrete holds the rails still, assuring safe travel at high speeds, but it simply can’t handle the tonnage of a freight train. It’s also extremely expensive to build, about 50 percent more than typical freight tracks.

The layout of our tracks is also a major problem. U.S. rails run across roadways at lots of places. Because a collision between a car and a super-fast train would be catastrophic for everyone involved, high-speed rail simply cannot cross roadways.

Our system of rails is also way too curvy for high speeds. Because 19th-century transit engineers didn’t envision trains traveling much more than 60 mph, they built lots of bends into the tracks. High-speed trains have to slow down substantially to negotiate even a banked curve. But in order to straighten out track around population centers — precisely the places where high-speed rail is needed — government would have to extensively use its power of eminent domain to take private property, which would be expensive and politically unpopular.

via Stimulus funds give high-speed rail a kick in the caboose.

I’m back

Here I am, back from a fine time in France and Germany. I’ll tell you about some of the things I learned over the next week or so. But, hey, thanks for covering for me. Over 250 comments on theology! I haven’t had a chance to go through all of the discussions, but it looks like you had some lively ones. You don’t need me.

Revolution in the LCMS

I am thrilled at the election of Matt Harrison as the new president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. As I followed with great difficulty, being overseas, the convention, and saw that the incumbent’s restructuring proposals were passing, I had assumed that his re-election was a sure thing. Instead, Rev. Harrison won and won big.

This is a milestone for the LCMS and world Lutheranism. Rev. Harrison is confessional and conservative, yes. But he is also a gifted and (dare I say) charismatic leader. He is a pastor, a scholar, an author, and a proven administrator of a complex organization. As head of Lutheran World Relief and Human Care, he did a brilliant job bringing help to those in need, from the victims of Hurricane Katrina to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. He has a heart. He upholds Mercy. In answer to questions on that open post, Rev. Harrison has been the pastor of a largely African-American congregation. He started innovative programs to help the people of his community and his neighborhood. He is also well-known and well-respected in global circles and will be a persuasive advocate for confessional teaching in world Lutheranism. I believe he will be unusually effective in his office.

Not only did the convention elect Rev. Harrison, but virtually every other office also went to a confessional candidate. Including ALL of the five vice-presidents! As Mollie Hemingway points out, the new leaders of the LCMS have either been guests on “Issues, Etc.” or could be guests on that radio show that had been cancelled by the previous administration. (The producer, Jeff Schwarz, was even elected as the lay representative to the Council for Theology and Church Relations!) She is calling this synodical turn-around the Issues, Etc. revolution.

I am not saying that these new leaders will be able to solve all of the problems in the Missouri Synod. But they will set a new tone. And they will make a difference. There will be a new norm.” And instead of that being church growth, megachurch, culture-war, American-style evangelicalism, that norm will be distinctively, yet attractively, Lutheran.

Matt Harrison

States’ rights and gay marriage

A judge has ruled that when states legalize gay marriage, that takes priority over the federal Defense of Marriage Act, with its definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.  Conservatives tend to push states’ rights, while liberals tend to believe federal law should trump state law.   Reactions to this ruling, though, go against those tendencies.  Interestingly, “tea partiers” are being consistent, praising the ruling as a victory for states’ rights.  Here are some details:

A judge’s decision on Thursday declaring that a state law allowing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts should take precedence over a federal definition of marriage has exposed the fractures and fault lines among groups working to bolster states’ rights.

The decision, by Judge Joseph L. Tauro of United States District Court in Boston, supports and echoes a central tenet of the Tea Party, 9/12 and Tenth Amendment movements, all of which argue that the authority of the states should trump Washington in most matters not explicitly assigned by the Constitution to the federal government.

Congress, the judge said, had infringed on a question that was the province of local voters and legislators.

But in using the argument to support gay marriage in Massachusetts, where the case arose, the judge created an awkward new debating point within the less-government movement about where social goals and government policy intersect, or perhaps collide.

Some people involved in the campaigns to limit Washington’s reach cheered what they said was a states’ rights victory.

“The Constitution isn’t about political ideology,” said Michael Boldin, the founder of the Tenth Amendment Center, a group based in Los Angeles. “It’s about liberty, and limiting the government to certain divisive issues — I applaud what I consider a very rare ruling from the judiciary.” . . .

A spokeswoman for one of the biggest Tea Party umbrella organizations, Tea Party Patriots, said that social questions were not part of their mission.

“As far as an assertion of states’ rights goes, I believe it’s a good thing,” said Shelby Blakely, executive director of The New Patriot Journal, the group’s online publication. “The Constitution does not allow federal regulation of gay marriage just as it doesn’t allow for federal regulation of health care.”

via News Analysis – Basis of Ruling on Gay Unions Stirs Debate – NYTimes.com.

So, is the outcome the only thing that matters to you, or is it important to follow the principle, even though the outcome might not be what you want?

Land of the Freon

Although I had a good time in France and Germany and came to appreciate their people, their culture, and their history, I have to say that the experience also helped me to appreciate even more what America stands for and what makes America great. And what America stands for and what makes America great, among other things, is air-conditioning!

They just don’t have air-conditioning much in Europe. The stores don’t. The restaurants don’t (which explains the sidewalk cafes). The houses and apartments don’t. At one point, I splurged on a rather nice hotel in Germany, and it didn’t have air-conditioning either. Maybe the Europeans are hardier than us Yanks, or at least closer to nature. But it sure got hot.

An enterprising salesman who could sell refrigerators to the Eskimos could surely sell air-conditioning units to the Europeans and make a fortune. In fact, air-conditioning Europe could solve our balance of trade problem, as well as helping with unemployment and getting the U.S. economy going again.

Also, screens. You open the window and you experience the outside directly. I heard an Eric Hoffer interview in which he said that nature is harsher in the New World than in the Old. They don’t seem to have so many mosquitos and other things you would want to screen out.

Then again, Europeans have things that Americans don’t. Two-hour lunch breaks, in France; castles; gothic cathedrals.

While I’m away. . .

I’ll be in Europe for the next couple of weeks, lecturing at John Warwick Montgomery’s apologetics institute in Strasburg, France, and then sightseeing in Germany. Some of you suggested that I get a guest blogger to cover for me while I’m away. What I’m asking is for YOU to be my guest blogger. I will set up some categories and ask you to fill them in with your comments–noting items of interest, putting up links, stating your opinion, and discussing what other people have posted. OK? Will you do that for me? Thanks.